From chickens to congregations
JERMAINE Bailey has come a long way from baptising the chickens in his yard as a 10-year-old-boy.
At 35, he is now an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, having been formally inducted along with four others on Saturday, July 12 at the Seventh-day Adventist Conference Centre in Mt Salem, St James.
To say it's a dream come true for him would be understating things.
"Though my ordination is a milestone, it is also a stepping stone to do greater exploits for the Lord. Working with young people, I want to influence them for good by instilling in them good Christian values. The church district of Little London, where I now serve, needs more social intervention to stem the level of crime and violence which has now become part of the community," Bailey said.
He is no stranger to crime and violence, having been raised in the turbulent west Kingston community of Arnett Gardens (popularly known as Jungle) in the 1980s. He was born on May 14, 1979, as one of 14 children to Bernard and Mavis Bailey. It was one of the most violent periods in Jamaica's political history as, almost a year before, in April 1978, it had taken reggae icon Bob Marley to symbolically unite the two political leaders by having them hold hands at his One Love peace concert at the National Stadium.
"Living in the ghettos of Arnett Gardens was never easy", Pastor Bailey said. "Being marginalised and victimised is never a good thing. The only source of encouragement was to pick up a gun, crack or cocaine. We were excited to see gunmen with guns because it was the norm".
"Most boys then would feel like if you didn't have one (a gun) you would make a toy one. There was also strong political rivalry between the two main political parties, which led to my family having to flee to an adjoining community in the middle of the night," he continued.
In spite of those realities, Bailey determined that he would not become a statistic, but would be a positive influence on his community, through sharing the gospel.
"The conviction of my parents kept me and my siblings out of much of the violence and killings of the day," Bailey said. "As I got older and the killings got closer to home, with close relatives becoming part of the death statistics, I determined that I must be a positive agent of change in the community."
He got baptised at the age of 15 at Trench Town Seventh-day Adventist Church, after missing four previous baptism preparations with the Pentecostal church. This paved the way for him to be trained in evangelism through the Lay Preachers' Institute. His passion for the salvation of souls and his preaching to people inside and outside the church earned him the name 'Ghetto Preacher'.
After answering the call to become a pastor, Bailey decided that it was time to formalise his training and applied to Northern Caribbean University (NCU) to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in religion. His application was rejected three times. He got through on the fourth attempt, after completing two outstanding CSEC subjects to meet the requirement for enrolment. After hurdling that challenge, there came doubts about his 'ghetto' address, and then there was the lack of funds with which to finance his tertiary education.
To solve the latter, he enrolled in the university's work/study programme and only pursued courses in alternating semesters so he work and accumulate his earnings during the other semesters. In the end, what should have taken him four years to complete, took seven.
"My time at NCU was both challenging and rewarding. It was a blessing to be there. I was around positive people who wanted something or wanted to be somebody in life.
I discovered and rediscovered knowledge and the truth of God that has helped me to be a better Christian", Bailey said.
While at NCU, he served at the Adventist church on campus, and was ordained as a deacon and subsequently an elder. He graduated in August 2009, and was employed in June 2010 as an intern in the New Market District of Churches. He has been pastor of the Little London District of Churches in Westmoreland since September 2010 and has so far baptised more than 370 people.
In the six months from December 2004 to May 2005, while he was still at NCU, violence and other incidents claimed 15 of pastor Bailey's family members — including his sister, who died from a heart attack. His mother had previously passed away while he was a student at Charlie Smith High.
His own life was threatened too, when he was confronted by gunmen who were allegedly paid to kill him.
"One Saturday night while I was in Tivoli Gardens two gunmen came to kill me. There are no words to explain what the feelings were like, but my knees started falling apart. They told me they were paid to kill me and all I could simply do is to turn to them and say, 'I don't know how much you were paid, but one thing I know is that there is a God in heaven who can do miraculous things'. When I was through with telling them about God, tears fell from their eyes," Bailey said.
In addition to being a qualified pastor, Bailey, who is married to medical technologist Lashana Woolery, is a certified chef and has worked in the USA, Canada and England as head chef in hotels and restaurants.
He earned the certification during his on-again-off-again study regime at NCU.